Holliday trade disastrous for fantasy owners

November, 11, 2008
11/11/08
10:55
AM ET
In real baseball: Perplexing.

Fantasy baseball-wise: Utterly devastating.

Those are the first thoughts that spring to mind upon learning of the trade of Matt Holliday on Monday … not to the Phillies, or the Cardinals, or the Yankees. No, Holliday today finds himself on the move, separated from cozy Coors Field for the first time in his career and headed to Oakland for an undisclosed package of players.

You read that right: Ladies and gentlemen, introducing Matt Holliday, Oakland Athletic.

Matt Holliday, 2006-2008

Matt Holliday transformed himself into an all-around fantasy machine in recent seasons. Can he emulate that in Oakland?

Year -- Team
AB
R
HR
RBI
SB
Avg.
2006 -- COL
602
119
34
114
10
.326
2007 -- COL
636
120
36
137
11
.340
2008 -- COL
539
107
25
88
28
.321
In pure baseball terms, it's a curious move for A's GM Billy Beane, the mastermind general manager still highly regarded in the business. The Athletics presumably stand little to no chance at retaining the slugger when he comes up for free agency next winter, making this a near-certain one-year rental. Fact is, if Holliday alone can't help turn Oakland's 75-86 record of 2008 around, he might find himself right back on the trade market come July.

Chances are that's exactly what is going to happen.

I've already discussed Holliday's home/road splits in this space in my recent "Hot Stove Preview." The overwhelming opinion in the baseball world is that Holliday is a Coors Field-generated hitter, but the truth is he's not. As cited in that column, Holliday translates to about a .300-average, 30-homer, 110-RBI slugger had he played any of the past three seasons while calling a neutral park his home. Not bad, but MVP-caliber? Hmm, not quite.

Problem is, McAfee Coliseum is not at all a neutral park. On our Park Factor page, McAfee ranked 26th in terms of runs scored and 14th in home runs in 2008. In 2006 and 2007, it ranked no higher than 24th in either category. Coors, by comparison, has been a top-five park in either category each of the past two seasons, and in its existence has routinely ranked at or near the top in both departments. The thin air at Coors might work to a hitter's advantage, but in Oakland, spacious foul territory and high outfield fences work to his detriment.

Plop Holliday into that environment and it's hard to imagine him doing any better than that .300 batting average or 30 home runs, as opposed to the .330/35 numbers he came to be known for in Colorado. He might even fall short in one or both.

The other knock on Holliday in Oakland: His supporting cast will be considerably weaker than it was in Colorado. Fact: The Athletics finished dead last in the American League in runs per game (4.01) and team OPS (.686). That OPS, incidentally, was the worst by any AL squad since the 2003 Detroit Tigers (.675) … and that team, if you don't remember, lost 119 games. Runs scored, and to a somewhat lesser extent, RBIs, will be a problem.

Holliday averaged 115 runs scored the past three seasons, batting primarily out of the No. 3 hole. By comparison, Oakland's No. 3 hitters combined totaled 86 runs in 2008, though to be fair, Holliday's .409 on-base percentage was noticeably higher than the Athletics' .316. The Athletics also managed sub-.350 on-base percentages -- and a dreadful .308 out of the leadoff spot -- from their top two lineup positions. Holliday can't drive home players that aren't on the basepaths, meaning his 2006 to 2008 average of 113 RBIs seems like a long shot with his new team. Who bats first and second? Travis Buck? Daric Barton? Aaron Cunningham? A free-agent acquisition?

And let's not overlook Beane's approach to the stolen base. Much of the impetus for Holliday's No. 6 final standing on the 2008 ESPN Player Rater was his 28 steals. As conservative as Oakland has been with regard to the stolen base in the Beane era, Holliday would be lucky to manage half that number for his new team. Fact: Oakland's No. 14 MLB ranking in steals in 2008 represented the first time since 1998 that the team ranked higher than 23rd in the category. Don't blame the personnel; Johnny Damon was on the 2001 squad that ranked 24th. Beane's teams have always operated under the belief that you don't risk outs on the basepaths, and besides, Oakland isn't going to risk injury to its most precious hitting resource -- and a possible midseason trade chip -- by letting him run wild 20-plus times.

Put it all together, and you no longer have yourself a first-round pick. I'd argue, in fact, that Holliday will be lucky to contend for top-25 overall status.

Statistically speaking, there's a player who immediately comes to mind as comparable for the 2009 version of Holliday: Carlos Lee, a guy who, you guessed it, has averaged a .290 batting average and 31 home runs per 162 games played for his career. Lee was the 22nd player selected overall in 2008 Live Drafts, and he finished 70th on the Player Rater, after his stats were hurt by his season-ending broken finger in mid-August. That seems about right for Holliday; when it comes Lee time -- think third round or so -- pick Holliday first, then Lee.

Greg SmithAP Photo/The Canadian Press/Frank GunnGreg Smith
• ESPN's Jerry Crasnick reports that left-hander Greg Smith is one of the players Colorado-bound in the deal, and names such as Brett Anderson, Carlos Gonzalez and Huston Street are being bandied about as well. We've talked about the detriment of hitters leaving Coors Field. Well, any pitcher headed to Coors Field suffers at least as precipitous a decline in his fantasy value.

Smith stood up fairly well after being pressed into a starting role for the Athletics in 2008, but he brings plenty of warning signs with him to Colorado: He walked 87 batters in 190 1/3 innings, or more than four per nine frames, and had a 0.78:1 ground ball-to-fly ball ratio. Fly-ball pitchers with poor command rates don't make quality fantasy options calling Coors home; NL-only matchups consideration is his only chance at a 2009 impact. Think Denny Neagle, who never had an ERA below 5.26 in three seasons for the Rockies.

Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy baseball, football and hockey analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.

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